Review: Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boy’s & Girls (1957) and Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1965)

Next in my series of reviews of cookbooks for children are two Betty Crocker cookbooks: Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1957, available from Archive.org https://archive.org/details/bettycrockerscoo00croc) and Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1965).  These two books were published by General Mills as part of their long history of creating cookbooks to help sell General Mills products and teach America how to cook.

Like Things to Cook (1951), the two Betty Crocker cookbooks for boys and girls attempt to be inclusive of both boys and girls.  Both books begin with a page devoted to their “Home Testers”.   A small sketch of each child involved in the project is accompanied by a quote.  From these quotes, it is apparent that the children took their role very seriously.  A girl named Elizabeth proclaims, “All those recipes sound like a lot of work.  But we loved it,” and Ricky states “We always said what we thought, even if it wasn’t complementary.”

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Home testers, 1957
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Test-Helpers, 1965

Both of these books contain some interesting gender dynamics.  Both boys and girls participated as testers for both books.  In the 1957 book, there are 12 testers, eight girls and four boys.  The 1965 book had 13 testers, eight girls and five boys. While the ratio of boys to girls was certainly not equal, I appreciated that the publishers attempted to demonstrate that cooking is not just for girls.  Indeed, throughout both books, girls and boys are featured in the illustrations accompanying the recipes; however, one interesting thing to note is that only boys/men wear chef hats in the earlier book.  In Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls, a boy is wearing a chef’s hat on the title page and on page 87, and on pages 123 and 186, an adult male chefs are pictured wearing a chef hats.  No girls or women are shown wearing chef hats.  We can’t know if this was a deliberate choice, but this omission implies that only boys can grow up to be professional chefs; whereas, girls are mostly suited to be home cooks.

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Title page of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1957)
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Page 186 of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1957) – only boys and men wear chef’s hats in this book.

This issue of representation is improved in the second book in which a boy and two girls are shown wearing chef hats.  The boy, pictured on the front cover, is wearing a white chef hat while proudly presenting a chocolate-frosted cake to a girl and young boy who gaze at him in amazement.  On the back cover is a girl wearing a red chef hat; this image is replicated on the interior of the book as well.  The girl in this picture is more passive than the boy on the cover.  She’s surrounded by cooking supplies as she reads from a cookbook.  On page 26, another girl is shown wearing a chef hat.  In this case, the chef hat is white and she is carrying a plate full of streusel-topped rolls.  While the placement of the pictures is not ideal representation of the potential of female chefs – they boy wearing the chef’s hat is on the front cover after all – it is definitely an improvement over the earlier books.

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Front cover, 1965.  A boy holds his cake proudly aloft while his siblings gaze on with admiration.  
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Back cover, 1965.  A girl is pictured studiously reading a cookbook in preparation for cooking.

Also remarkable is that boys are the only ones pictured cooking outside of the house in both books.  Boys cook on grills and over fires, but girls do not.  Girls are shown eating outside, but the food appears to have been prepared inside and brought outside.

 

The parents are also treated differently according to their gender.  While this isn’t particularly abnormal for the time period, there is a sense in both books that the kitchen was the mother’s realm.  In the section titled “before you start to cook”, the first direction is “Choose a time to suit your mother, so you won’t be in her way.”   The quotes from the children reinforced this sense that the kitchen belongs to the mother: “We always left the kitchen clean.  Then Mother liked to have us help” and “We learned to use the pots and pans that our mothers have in their kitchens.”  The father is not a presence in the kitchen.  In the 1957 book, the word “dad” appears seven times, and each of these mentions is in reference to his birthday.   By contrast, mom/mother/mama are used 13 times, mostly in reference to her domain in the kitchen.

 

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Sample menus are provided for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the 1965 book, but there’s something a little unequal about the menus.  Father gets oven-fried drumsticks.  Mother gets SPAM a can of “pork luncheon meat” which has been flavored with clove-studded pineapple slices and brown sugar.  The labor division is also unequal. For the Feast for Father, the child is directed to “switch jobs with Mother and let her be your assistant for such a special occasion.  She’ll be happy to set the table, make the coffee, and give any other help needed” (141).  On Mother’s Day, however, the father’s tasks are much less arduous: “Dad can pitch in to make the coffee” (142).

The recipes in both books are well written; although, they do seem to be a bit on the bland side.  Both cookbooks have recipes for chili, but neither seem particularly spicy even though the 1965 book bumps up the spice level from one teaspoon of chili powder to two teaspoons.  The majority of the recipes call for shortcuts, such as Bisquick, Betty Crocker Cake Mixes, and canned soups.  That’s not surprising at all since Betty Crocker’s brand is built on convenience.

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“Chili Concoction” 1957.
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“Chili Concoction” 1965.  Note the addition of an extra teaspoon of chili powder and salt

Some additional things that stick out: the hamburger recipes call for evaporated milk (ew) and there are remarkably few chicken recipes.  There is only one recipe that calls for chicken in the book from 1957, and that chicken comes in the form of condensed chicken and rice soup from a can. In the later book there are only two chicken recipes, Creamy-Chicken Vegetable Soup (made by combining canned soups) and Oven-Fried Drumsticks.

Unlike Things to Cook (1951) both books have a rather substantial section on safety.  Children are advised to “Ask mother before you use a sharp knife, can opener, or electric mixer.”  Aside from standard cooking tasks: chopping, slicing, cooking on the stove, and pulling hot baking sheets from the oven, most of the recipes are fairly safe.  One recipe calls for the use of a double boiler, which is slightly risky because of the hot steam, but none of the recipes require deep frying or working with molten sugar.

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Finally, another major difference between the earlier book and the latter is the addition of a page devoted to nutrition.  The page, titled “Foods you need- every day”, is very brief.  It lists four food groups and how many servings are recommended per day.  The book recommends 2 or more servings of meats; however, meats is a misleading term since it lists not only poultry and fish but also eggs, dried beans/peas, and peanut butter.  Four or more servings of vegetables and fruits are also recommended, but the book gets a little more specific; it recommends one citrus fruit daily and one dark green or yellow vegetable every other day.  Milk recommendations vary by age, as children are directed to drink more milk than adults.  Four servings of whole grain, enriched, restored, or fortified breads and cereals are recommended daily.  Finally, the reader is directed, “And don’t forget fats, sweets and extra servings from these four groups – they provide additional food energy and other food values.

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Compared to today’s dietary recommendations, there isn’t all that much difference between what Betty Crocker and My Plate’s recommendations, aside from specificity.  My Plate separates fruits and vegetables into two categories and has recommendations for different categories of vegetable, for example orange/red vegetables, starchy vegetables, dark green vegetables, etc.  The other major difference is that sweets are not recommended as part of My Plate because in this scheme they are only supposed to be an occasional treat rather than a major fuel source.

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Sad pizza from the 1965 book
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Hamburgers, 1965.  I’m torn about the addition of evaporated milk to the hamburgers.  On one hand, it would add a nice cheesy, creaminess to the meat.  On the other hand, ew. 
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Castle Cake, 1965.  Decorated cakes are quite popular in children’s recipe books.  This one is particularly adorable but seems simple to make.

Review: Things to Cook (1951)

For the next few posts, I’m going to be reviewing cookbooks for children.  I’ve managed to collect quite a few in my travels, and I’m interested in seeing how they’ve evolved over time.  I’ll be looking at the types of recipes in the books, the complexity of those recipes, how the information is delivered, and whether the books provide any extra information like how to set the table, safety, or etiquette.

The first book I’m looking at is Cook Book: A Picture Cook Book for Children by Helen Jill Fletcher.  Curiously, the title on the title page reads “Things to Cook” instead of using the title on the cover.  This book was published in 1951 as part of a series of books for this age group published by Paxton-Slade in the early 50s.

Written for children ages 7-12, the pages of this book are rather thick and coarse, like the pages of a child’s coloring book.  There are step-by-step illustrations for each recipe; however, some of the illustrations are a little unclear without reading the accompanying text.

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After the title page and table of contents is a section titled “What we must know about measurements”.  The pages show some tips for accurate measuring; for example, it instructs children to measure dry ingredients before measuring liquids or fats and to butter the measuring cup to keep molasses from sticking.  Next is a page of measurement equivalents and a chart explaining temperature equivalents to subjective oven temperatures.  The chart shows that a slow oven equates to a 250-325 degree oven.  A moderate oven is 325-400 degrees.  While the terms “slow oven,” “hot oven,” and “very hot oven” are rarely used any more, I have seen them in a lot of older cookbooks.  This cookbook was published at a time when people were transitioning from wood and coal fired ovens to ones with more accurate temperature controls.  I’m guessing that the inclusion of subjective temperature equivalents was to help make the book accessible to those without temperature controls on their ovens or to help kids learn how to read older cookbooks.

Next is a primer on basic cooking skills.  They review a few common skills needed to complete the recipes, including: creaming butter and sugar, beating, separating egg whites, chopping, dicing, and cutting.  Then there’s a section on how to set a table, and some suggested menus.

The recipes are fairly kid friendly with no complicated or rare ingredients.  Most recipes have between four and six ingredients.  The most complicated recipes are the gingerbread men which calls for 11 ingredients.  The recipes to lean a bit on the sweet side.  Half of the recipes are baked goods, sweetened beverages, or sweet snacks.  The rest are kid friendly appetizers, entrees, salads, snacks, and side dishes.  Oddly, none of the recipes contain chicken.  This is probably because chicken was expensive for most people until battery farming became more prevalent in the 70s and 80s.

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There may not be any chicken recipes, but there’s this sweet chicken illustration on introductory page for the Main Dishes section.

This book attempts to be inclusive of both boys and girls.  Each recipe is given either a boy’s name or a girl’s name.  Thirteen of the recipes are associated with girl’s names and twelve with boy’s names.  I tried to discern whether there was some sort of pattern to the naming of the recipes, but aside from things with wieners named for boys (Billy’s Franks and Beans and Wimpy’s Bacon-Wiener) and Hector’s He-Man Hamburgers, there really isn’t a pattern.  There are salads, desserts, and vegetable dishes all with boys’ and girls’ names.

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One thing that sets this book apart from other children’s cookbooks in my collection is that there is absolutely nothing about safety.  At the very least, most books will have a section at the front warning kids that ovens are hot and that knives are sharp, but this book has nothing.

To see if there is anything truly hazardous in this book and to create a baseline for other books, I compiled a list of activities that I think can be particularly hazardous for children in the kitchen: deep-frying, pan-frying, making candy with super-hot sugar, using sharp implements, using beaters/mixers/blenders, and using a double boiler.  I didn’t include things like boiling water or taking hot pans from the oven because they are pretty much standard when cooking; although, I imagine they are the cause of most kitchen-related emergency room visits for children.  Keeping this list in mind, I found that most of the recipes in this book are fairly innocuous. There are a few recipes that require a double boiler and most recipes require cutting or chopping, but other than that there isn’t really anything dangerous.  I still find it odd that there isn’t anything about kitchen safety in the book.

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Most of the children’s cookbooks I’ve seen from the mid-century forward contain a recipe for hamburgers.  This recipe seems more like a meatloaf than what I think of as a hamburger.  It calls for ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, catsup, salt, and cooking fat.

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The directions to make this merry-go-round cake are in the book as well.  It has a plain yellow cake for the base.  The animals are animal crackers, candy sticks are used as the uprights, and the canopy is paper cut into a circle with a radial slit so it can be shaped into a cone.  Making decorative cakes seems to be a mainstay of cookbooks for this age group.

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Not all of the illustrations are clear.  It took me forever to understand that the top picture is a scrub brush cleaning a potato.  I though it was an amoeba on a stick.  This is page is from the recipe for potato boats, essentially twice-baked potatoes.